My short series of sculpture posts has done thoughtful treehouses in Bruges, love and affection in Oslo. So now we come to the grand finale. A giant pink party aardvark has apparently passed out on the sidewalk in the Dutch city of Arnhem. If ever there was a piece of municipal art that qualifies as completely mad – this is it.
I spent a brief overnight in the city of Arnhem on my way to an event in the nearby town of Dieren, (of which more soon.) I was also keen to get a small taste of one of the cities that will host our Velo-city conference series in 2017, Arnhem and its neighbour Nijmegen beat off stiff competition to win the prize and I hadn’t been there, so it was the obvious place to stop over.
Of course I then embarked on the typical behaviour of a visiting cyclist in the Netherlands, I started taking awesome photos of the swarms of cyclists outside my hotel.
Only in the background did I vaguely notice that there were a series of oddly shaped large pink mounds set in some open space, all a bit scruffy because it appeared to be partially fenced off for renovation.
However when I got up to my hotel room on the fourth floor I could see part of the shape in the corner of my window and I realised that I seemed to be looking down on part of a big red dragon or other animal crashed out on its back in a position like our dog wanting his belly to be scratched. But what sort of animal could it be, large, pink and with huge claws?
Inevitably I turned to the internet which quickly gave me the story “Florentijn Hofman Unveils Gigantic 150,000-Ton Pink Aardvark in the Netherlands!”
You have to be kidding? Why would an African anteater form a centrepiece in a Dutch city?
It turns out that the artist was commissioned by Arnhem Zoo to build a sculpture for its 100th Anniversary in 2013 and because they have the only aardvark in the Netherlands that was their mascot for the event. But of course! It is coated in concrete and plastic coating that encourages people to climb on it and use it as a playground. He (she, it?) even has his own Tripadvisor page which suggests that many people are as bemused as me but it has become well-loved, especially for the kids.
When I wandered downstairs again I tried to appreciate my neighbour in all his glory.
Glory? For there can be little doubting why this is a party aardvark. It is not playfully lying on his back for a belly rub. This character has been to one hell of a party and he has crashed, tired and emotional, to sleep off his indulgences.
Even writing this blog post the aardvark has sent my imagination running off with lots of new ideas, which must be the point of this sort of bizarre, crazy, bonkers public art.
I want to sit on it and re-word the classic Monty Python “Dead Parrot Sketch”, replacing the “parrot” with “aardvark” and defending his honour. “He’s not dead, he’s just shagged out after a long party”
Or at Velo-city we need a top trials rider like Danny Mackaskill to come and recreate some of his famous cycling stunts, it could be spectacular.
Florentijn Hofman makes a lot of art from giant cartoon animals, but I am sure he must have been brought up on Disney movies. Because in more innocent times before political correctness took over Disney inserted a sequence in Dumbo that actually tried to show children what it means to be drunk. Today that would never make it into a children’s movie, but in Arnhem giant pink drunks are celebrated.
What a jolly way to end my short sculpture sequence. I am just trying to imagine the committee meeting at the council when they finally understood what they were about to install in their city, that dawning realisation that the famous artist’s creation and future children’s playground was going to be giant, pink and drunk. Fortunately they went ahead, which I think is wonderful, a sign that collectively the city has a sense of humour and a willingness to do something completely unique. That is an extremely encouraging prospect for our Velo-city week here in 2017, we could aim to get 1500 cycling delegates partying like aardvarks.